It’s likely you’ve seen or experienced Rex Berneking’s solid craftsmanship, from Wilder Auto Center’s show floors to concrete work at Dungeness Community Church, King’s Way and Independent Bible Church. Or, at Railroad Bridge Park, Lake Crescent and many, many other places.
After nearly 40 years, Rex, 69, and his wife Penny, 66, are winding down their business Berneking Concrete Homes.
“We’re ready, but we’re not retiring people,” Penny said.
As “workaholics,” Rex said they have “a hard time quitting things.”
The pair are stopping work in the concrete business while maintaining their Berneking Rentals in Sequim and Port Angeles and taking on a fixer-upper home.
The couple said they’ve employed more than 200 people in their tenure — including their five sons.
“We’re thankful to the community that supported us,” Rex said. “Honesty is our only policy. I give you the best quality I can because concrete is permanent. We want to get it right the first time.”
Penny said God has “blessed us over and over” and that the same day of the interview for this story, her calendar quoted Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
“We’ve been able to support a lot of families over time and given them a good wage,” Rex said.
Berneking Concrete, now Berneking Concrete Homes, started with “a bucket of tools, a ratty pickup and a forgiving wife,” Rex said.
Their oldest son Daniel was 3 then, and Penny was unknowingly pregnant when they started the new venture. A housing slump was in play, too, Rex said.
But he said he beat the bushes, reaching out all over for work.
“If I saw a house being built, I went up and asked if they needed a project done,” he said.
One of his first projects was a retaining wall at Lake Sutherland, a job that led to growing relationships with multiple contractors and projects for businesses and residents like sidewalks, driveways and more.
Scott Schwagler, owner of J&J Construction, said their working relationship started near Berneking Concrete’s beginnings.
“He’s a great man with a great family,” he said. “We’re definitely going to miss them.”
For the projects they partnered, Schwagler said Berneking and his small team were “awesome, top notch.”
Schwagler said Berneking is “someone who thinks about a project as a whole, not just what he was doing but what other trades were doing too.
“He is a good team member. We’re going to miss having him around. Wish him and penny the best and many great years of retirement.”
Karl Allen of Allen Roofing said he began working with Berneking when he called him out for a concrete job at his home.
“He was great,” Allen said. “He’s done good work and been around a long time. He’s definitely been a good guy.”
In 2002, Rex branched into concrete homes with insulated concrete forms (ICF) that are exterior walls using expanded polystyrene forms filled with high thermal mass concrete. He said ICF homes help lower energy costs and outside noise, and are more earthquake resistant than wood-built homes.
He installed 36 ICF structures for homes between Sequim and Port Angeles and served as general contractor for one of them in Discovery Bay.
“It was a real niche for us,” Rex said.
Rex Berneking (pronounce Bernie-King), is a native Kansan who majored in math and minored in biology from Fort Hays University. He needed work after college and took up a job with a local concrete company, he said.
A friend of his eventually started his own concrete business, so Rex left to work for him.
“I enjoyed working with them. That was back in my party mode; my bosses were, too,” he said.
On a trip to visit some friends attending the University of Washington in 1977, he discovered the Olympic Peninsula and spent some time cycling (Rex was an avid rider) and hiking in the area.
That August he went back to Kansas for his sister’s wedding, determined he’d come back to Seattle. After a few dead ends finding a place to live, he came to Port Angeles to live with his great-uncle.
The day he arrived, he sought a job from a concrete contractor, Cliff Brehan, and was hired the same day.
About four years later, Rex started his own business.
Rex met Penny, of Salem, Ore., through his sister Ruth, shortly after moving to the area.
A dramatic experience brought them together sooner than expected, Penny said, as on a date Rex’s truck flipped and they got acquainted on the walk for help.
They met in April 1978 and married that June. The couple has eight children and 10 grandchildren.
Penny was their first employee as a bookkeeper, and Daniel was their longest-tenured staffer.
“It’s been a very family-oriented business,” Penny said.
Looking ahead, the Bernekings plan to travel more, particularly to their children in California and Canada, and go hiking more often.